Mini-Grant Report: (Re)Shaping Ministry for the 2020s

As part of an expanded requirement in contextual education I was asked by Dean Jim Turrell to develop a new course to eventually be taken in conjunction with the third semester of contextual education. The course focused on what I call “Outward-facing Ministry,” that is, outreach and ministry beyond the parish walls, in and in partnership with the wider community, the real parish boundary. We read books and articles on leadership, community and congregational analysis, sociology of religion, and planning and evaluation, with enough theology to keep us well-grounded. The course was titled, “Leadership, Innovation, and Outreach: (Re)Shaping Ministry for the 2020’s.”

I chose to do three things that made all the difference:  

  1. The course was taught entirely online.
  2. Because the seminarians were not able to be on-site for contextual education, I invited four recent alumni of the School of Theology to join the weekly class to share the wisdom of their experience as a way to “reality-test” the readings, presentations, and conversation. I requested and received a mini-grant from the Center for Teaching to purchase the course books for the alumni.
  3. I invited every (living – Durkheim and Geertz were each a no) author to Zoom into the class for an hour or so. With the exception of Ron Heifetz (Leadership Without Easy Answers), an admittedly big ask, each author said yes. 

You can read more about the course here:  https://theology.sewanee.edu/media/features/the-leadership-of-jesus-the-promise-of-resurrection-for-a-dying-church/ 

I told the class in the syllabus, the first meeting, and throughout the semester that the course was a work-in-progress, and an important goal was to learn how to teach the course more effectively when it transitions from an elective to a core requirement in Advent, 2021. We all embraced that role, sometimes with more gusto than the instructor might have liked, but I learned a lot and look forward to teaching it again, incorporating what the class taught me to make it more effective the next time around.  I also learned that in this particular instructional environment authors are happy to Zoom in, even if the only compensation they receive is a boost in royalties because the class bought their books. I have taken that learning and applied it to my work on another project for the School of Theology, creating a pair of webinar series that will include an incredible array of voices we could not afford to bring to Sewanee even if we could get them to travel here. But for a modest honorarium and two hours of their time, the leading theologians, biblical scholars, preachers, and activists in the world will be with us this year. 

Bill Brosend

School of Theology